I have a wall full of books. I love them. I love the masterpieces, I love the pulpy and forgettable crap. I love the smell of aged ink, I love the texture of thin paperback sheets and the thick creamy stock of hardback first editions. But, these loves are secondary to what I love most: The expression of ideas through words that have moved from tongue to text.
Kobo, Kindle, Nook, iPad and other devices and programs for reading eBooks have proliferated and made walls of books like mine an endangered species. For a bibliophile like me, the physical object of the book is a pleasurable thing when it comes to the act of reading, but it is not a necessary thing.
There may come a time, in the very near future, when even the most avid readers will cease to own books. I do not see this as a tragedy.
I have never owned some of the books that had the most influence on my life.
In the Juvenile Fiction section of my hometown library, I met Ike. He was Jewish and lived in New York during the Great Depression. He was featured in a series of books written by Carol Snyder and Charles Robinson.
Ike’s life was nothing like mine. For me, childhood was all worry. I couldn’t sleep with anxiety over bullies, teachers and math homework I’d forgotten about. The freedom of adulthood looked easier.
Adult responsibility loomed over Ike and his friends. An illness, an unlucky accident, a bad financial time — all threatened to prematurely end their childhoods (and educations). Ike played as if each carefree moment were his last chance to have fun.
Ike’s boyhood taught me that interesting lives aren’t lived by people who ONLY sit and read. Interesting events happen to people who experience life.
Ike shoveled snow to earn his ticket to the movies. I shoveled snow too. An elderly neighbour told me she’d shoveled snow around the same time Ike had, when it was an unusual job for a girl.
Ike spent his nickels on dill pickles from barrels. Ours came in jars, but my grandfather assured me they’d once come in barrels where we lived in Ontario, Canada too.
When Ike wasn’t shoveling snow, buying pickles or playing in the streets, he was seeking his mother’s counsel over a plate of kugel. I looked it up in Joy of Cookingand my mother helped me make some. I didn’t like kugel so much.
My own neighborhood, my own family, became more interesting because of Ike.
Decades later, Ike came to mind when I heard Henry Jenkins speak. Professor Jenkins is an expert in the study of children’s play and the culture of childhood. In frontier times, boys had an average play space of ten square miles of prairie or forest, the professor told us. By the 1920s, that kingdom had shrunk to ten city blocks, a labyrinth of city streets and alleyways, a statistic represents Ike’s world.
When I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, the era of playing outside until the streetlights come on was ending. Even the luxury of walking to the library, as I did, is a privilege that cannot be granted to most urban children. They should know, like Ike taught me, what they are missing. The world is bigger and more interesting than any of us can imagine, for me that lesson began when a character inspired me to explore my own neighborhood more closely.
Recently, I searched my hometown library online catalogue for the Ike books. The series was no longer listed. On a famous book retailer’s site, owners were selling their used copies of the Ike books for as little as 1 cent plus the cost of shipping. I don’t need to own a copy to know that Ike and his friends are far more valuable to me than that.
How nice to have my entry included among all the entries. It’s great company to be in.
I never read the Ike series, but I remember the What Katy Did series and all her adventures much the same way you remember Ike. And, like you, I don’t feel the urge to run out and buy the out-of-print books. The memory is wonderful enough.
One cent for a used book is a tragedy. That we are moving our cultural capital to 99 cent ebooks is a tragedy. That you, Kate, have given up issues journalism in despair and have to spend your time shilling links to your work is a tragedy. Being a writer used to be a job…albeit not one that paid well. Now writers have to be bad marketers and bad promoters only to see their legacies sold off at 1 cent plus shipping.
I’m going to go buy that Ike book for one cent. Then, I am going to make a donation to the local library so I don’t have to feel guilty about it.
I kind of have to agree with James. I miss the days when you used to write real articles. I know there’s more money in doing things like this, but still. I don’t want to take away whatever Ike gave you. I just think you need to write something that hits harder about changes to a model that is hurting writers, artists and musicians hardest.
Hi Kate. Thank you, this was a touching piece. I Ifeel that you could have ended on a slightly more punchy note, however. It sounds to me as if you have quietly excepted the inevitable instead of going out as Dylan Thomas would have, raging “against the dying of the light”.
Steven, I think you might be right. I have accepted the inevitable. Human beings will always have stories to tell. The methods we use will always change. I can’t say that the change is progress or evolution, but it is — as they say — constant. But there are also changes that have nothing to do with technology.
I recently wrote a short story called “Finnegan & Grandfather Cheng” for young adults. When a teenager I know asked me what it was about, I said it was about change.
“All stories are about change,” she shrugged.
I had to laugh because I remembered a lecture I attended as a first year undergraduate.
“All stories are about conflict,” the professor said.
I don’t think one goes without the other.
If you want to read “Finnegan and Grandfather Cheng,” visit ebookmall.com, click on the “Read Stories for Free” link and then search the title or with my name “Kate Baggott” without quotes.
I commented on another piece you wrote today and I am thinking about how exploration is always a theme. Books really are ways we are inspired to travel: first in our imaginations. I guess travelling light means we have to give our books to others after we read them
From ten square miles in frontier times to ten city blocks in the 1920’s, many children’s play space nowadays fits in a small box called a computer. So sad.
Great writing, Kate.
I’ve bought the books I loved best as a child again. I’m hoarding them while they’re cheap and then, when they are rare and treasured again, I am going to make a fortune.